Lawsuit filed against La. prison for reportedly abusing inmates, neglecting mental health needs

Lawsuit filed against La. prison for reportedly abusing inmates, neglecting mental health needs

HOMER, LA (WAFB) - A federal class action lawsuit has been filed against the Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) and the David Wade Correctional Center (DWCC) in Homer for reportedly subjecting inmates to "cruel, debilitating" conditions, including severe punishment for mentally ill and suicidal patients.

The lawsuit alleges DWCC houses inmates in "extended lockdown" for months on end, confining prisoners in their cells for 23 to 24 hours per day with little to no human contact. DWCC has a policy forbidding interaction between inmates, and due to the layout of the prison, inmates cannot see into other cells. The lawsuit claims this confinement and lack of human interaction makes serious mental illness in inmates worse.

"Extended lockdown is a cruel, inhumane punishment in which men are deprived of human contact, the outdoors, speaking with their families, or even a regular shower. The Department of Corrections sends men to these horrible conditions without any consideration for their mental or physical health. Prisoners known to have serious mental illness, including history of self-harm or suicidal tendencies, are routinely placed on extended lockdown," said Katie Schwartzmann, attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center.

The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of Anthony Tellis and Bruce Charles, both of whom are currently in custody at DWCC. Tellis, who has no history of mental illness, says he now has visual hallucinations as a result of being in extended lockdown and due to the lack of mental health resources at the prison.

Charles, who has been diagnosed as bipolar and who was reportedly on suicide watch at the time of his evaluation by the prison, was categorized as having no mental health issues. Attorneys say his diagnosis, medications, and medical records have been in constant, and sometimes contradictory, fluctuation. He has reportedly attempted suicide twice and been on suicide watch five times.

The lawsuit also provides details from numerous other inmates who have reportedly experienced trauma at the prison. One prisoner with a history of severe mental illness was reportedly held in lockdown with his requests for help ignored. He committed suicide by hanging. The lawsuit also alleges the prison used freezing temperatures to torture prisoners during the winter weather in January. The prison reportedly opened the windows while temperatures outside were below freezing and left inmates minimally clothed.

This is not the first lawsuit to be filed by the MacArthur Justice Center and the Advocacy Center against DWCC. In July of 2017, the organizations filed another lawsuit against DWCC, saying the prison had deliberately impeded a federally-mandated investigation into allegations of neglect and abuse of inmates with disabilities.

The suit was filed Tuesday, February 20 in the U.S. Middle District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana in Baton Rouge. The suit alleges violations of the First and Eighth Amendments, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Read the full lawsuit below.

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